August 2, 2018 / 4:13 PM / 17 days ago

Southern Europe issues heat warnings; German dry spell unearths WW2 munitions

ROME (Reuters) - Mediterranean countries issued severe weather warnings on Thursday, as a heatwave pushed temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Europe and falling water levels exposed World War Two munitions along the banks of a river in Germany.

People cool off in the sea as the temperature soars throughout the country, in Ostia, west of Rome, Italy, August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Italy issued red alerts - the highest of three warning levels - across the center and north, indicating widespread health risks in cities including tourist magnets Rome, Florence and Venice.

Heatwaves have become common in Italy, and between 2005 and 2016 some 23,880 people died in 23 Italian cities of heat-related problems, a report by the region of Lazio found.

Forecasters expect Italy’s heatwave to break over the weekend with powerful thunderstorms across much of the country.

Portugal said temperatures in the coming days could beat records and warned of a high risk of forest fires, fearful of a repeat of blazes that killed 114 people in 2017, a disaster that forced the interior minister to resign.

Wildfires in Greece last month killed 91 people.

In the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, police warned people not to touch the grenades, mines and other weapons that have emerged from the mud on the banks of the River Elbe since the heatwave caused a drastic reduction in the water level.

In just a few weeks, police have found 24 pieces of World War Two munitions - dumped at the end of the conflict by Russian, Western and German forces - near the water, compared with 12 in the whole of last year.

Specialist technicians are working overtime to make them safe, in some cases defusing them on site.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Madeline Chambers and Axel Bugge; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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